Stay-at-home orders in Melbourne, which has spent more time under COVID-19 lockdowns than any other city in the world, will be lifted this week, according to officials who announced the decision on Sunday.
By Friday, when some restrictions will be lifted, the Australian city of 5 million people will have been under six lockdowns for a total of 262 days, or nearly nine months, since March 2020, when the city was first placed under lockdown.
According to Australian and other media, this is the world’s longest lockdown, surpassing the previous record of 234 days in Buenos Aires.
However, while the number of coronavirus cases in Victoria’s capital city of Melbourne continues to rise, the state’s double-vaccination rate is expected to reach 70 percent this week, allowing for the relaxation of quarantine restrictions. Premier Daniel Andrews declared, “Today is a fantastic day,” shortly after declaring a state of emergency in Victoria. Victoria can be proud of what they have accomplished on this day, says the Premier.
Upon reopening, the capacity of hospitality establishments and some commercial enterprises will remain severely restricted. When 80 percent of eligible Victorians have been fully vaccinated, which is expected to be by Nov. 5 at the latest, more easing will be implemented, including the reopening of many retail establishments.
On Sunday, the state of Victoria reported 1,838 new coronavirus cases, with seven fatalities among them. Neighboring New South Wales, which emerged from a 100-day lockdown last week, reported 301 cases and 10 deaths, according to official figures. Eighty percent of the people in the state have received all of their vaccinations.
Australian authorities, who were once staunch supporters of a COVID-zero strategy for managing the pandemic, have begun to accept the virus as a part of their daily lives through widespread vaccinations, as the Delta variant has proven too transmissible to be suppressed.
Once 80 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, the new strategy makes lockdowns extremely unlikely. As of the weekend, approximately 68 percent of eligible Australians had received a complete vaccination.
The Australian Department of Health and Human Services announced on Sunday that quarantine-free travel from New Zealand’s South Island, where there is no outbreak, will be resumed on Wednesday, citing the latest available information. In addition, the government is in talks with Singapore about reopening travel between the two countries for those who have received all of their vaccinations.
In spite of a recent increase in the number of cases, Australia’s coronavirus numbers are still low when compared to those of many other developed countries, with just over 143,000 cases and 1,530 deaths.
A total of 51 new cases were reported on Sunday in neighboring New Zealand, which is also learning to live with COVID-19 by accelerating immunizations. Of those, 47 were in the country’s largest city, Auckland, which has been under lockdown since mid-August. As part of a government-led mass vaccination drive on Saturday, more than 2.5 percent of New Zealand’s population was immunized, according to official figures.